Monthly Archives: February 2012

Too much information: Links for week ending 24 February 2012

SABAM vs Netlog – another important ruling for fundamental rights
Last week, in a case brought by the Belgian collecting society SABAM, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that social networking sites “cannot be obliged to install a general filtering system, covering all its users, in order to prevent the unlawful use of musical and audio-visual work”. European Digital Rights calls the decision “a new win for fundamental freedoms” and provides answers to frequently asked questions about the case and the meaning of its outcome.

US lobbying waters down EU data protection reform
Euractiv reports that, following “intense lobbying” from authorities and firms in the US, “the overhaul of data protection rules proposed by Viviane Reding, the European Commission vice president in charge of fundamental rights, was substantially modified before it was published”.

India: Government to track locations of all mobile users
The Indian Express reports on changes being made to mobile network operating licenses that require mobile network operators to provide the Indian Department of Telecommunications with real-time details of users’ locations: “Documents obtained by The Indian Express show that details shall initially be provided for mobile numbers specified by the government. Within three years, service providers will have to provide information on locations of all users.”

MIT launches free online course – with accreditation
The BBC reports that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will begin offering an electronics course in March, its first free course which can be studied and assessed completely online: “In this prototype stage, the online assessment will depend on an “honour code” in which home students will commit to honest behaviour. But in future, the university says, there will be mechanisms for checking identity and verifying work.”

“ACTA is part of a multi-decade, worldwide copyright campaign”
Based on an interview with Michael Geist, this feature for Ars Technica explains why intellectual property enforcement provisions that go beyond internationally agreed norms are being drafted in secretive trade negotiations: “Rather than making their arguments at the World Intellectual Property Organization, where they would be subject to serious public scrutiny, the US and other supporters of more restrictive copyright law have increasingly focused on pushing their agenda in alternative venues, such as pending trade deals, where negotiations are secret and critics are excluded.

Africa: Beyond the Frontiers of Science Fiction
In this short piece, Jonathan Dotse shares his experience growing up as a science fiction fan in Accra, and makes a compelling case for why today’s best science fiction writers are increasingly setting their work in the developing world: “Youths from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa represent the single largest subgroup of the human population, and with the aid of advanced technology they will go on to shape the geopolitical destiny of our civilization”.

How Target knew my daughter was pregnant before I did
This long feature for the New York Times examines how large retail companies use detailed purchasing data to influence their customers’ habits, and why they’re not keen to talk about how they do it.

Internet freedom fighters build a shadow web
This (paywalled) feature for Scientific American provides a surprisingly good overview of the resurgence of interest in wireless mesh networking and the issues and challenges that face grassroots enthusiasts for re-instating the internet’s original, distributed architecture.

Does the NSA think Anonymous is the new Al Qaida?
Alexis Madrigal examines the rhetoric about Anonymous that is increasingly being used by US intelligence officials, and warns what it might mean in this piece for the Atlantic.

What we don’t know, and why, about incentives to stimulate biomedical R&D
James Love of Knowledge Ecology International takes on what he calls “strategic ignorance” about the effects of government policy on medical innovation in this short essay.

Copy Culture and the children of the web
Joe Karganis of the American Assembly at Columbia University gives a talk on his latest research into social attitudes towards copyright infringement and enforcement measures. Meanwhile, the Atlantic publish an English translation of an essay by Polish writer and commentator Piotr Czerski entitled “We, the web kids”, which gives a more individual perspective on the attitudes of the next generation: “We know how to compete and we like to do it, but our competition, our desire to be different, is built on knowledge, on the ability to interpret and process information, and not on monopolising it”.
Karganis (video) | Czerski

Too much information: Links for week ending 17 February

Tenth anniversary of Budapest Open Access Initiative
This week is the tenth anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the declaration which coined the term “open access” and spelled out a strategy for achieving free and open access to academic research. Melissa Hagemann, who helped convene the meeting that led to the declaration, reflects on ten years of championing the Open Access movement, while Cameron Neylon of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) highlights the “remarkable prescience” of the original text.
BOAI | Hagemann | Neylon

ACTA protests take place across Europe
Last weekend, thousands of people took part in pan-European protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a multilateral treaty negotiated largely in secret that threatens to take intellectual property enforcement standards beyond internationally-agreed norms. Lobbyists for rightsholders groups have written to the European Parliament, which will begin considering whether to accept the treaty at the end of this month, urging members to to ignore popular concerns about ACTA and dismissing criticisms as “misinformation”. European Digital Rights (EDRI) have issued a factsheet detailing major flaws in the information the European Commission is giving to the Parliament about the treaty.
Report | EDRI factsheet | Lobbyists’ letter

Iran: Internet access cut
Reuters reports on news that Iranian authorities “switched off” secure connections to websites hosted outside Iran over the weekend: “Many Iranians are concerned the government may be preparing to unveil its much documented national internet system, effectively giving the authorities total control over what content Iranian users will be able to access”.

Chile: Pressure on government to open up TPP negotiating process
(via Google Translate) The government in Chile have responded to mounting concerns raised by citizens that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed international treaty with implications for access to knowledge and health, is being negotiated in secret and without input from civil society groups. Derechos Digitales reports that 3,500 Chilean citizens got in touch to express their concerns to the Chilean President and his advisers, just 12 hours after the launch of their campaign highlighting the TPP, “SOPA in Chile?”.

Thailand: Criminal trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn resumes
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports on the resumption of the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn (commonly known as Jiew) in Thailand this week. The free speech advocate and director of one of Thailand’s most popular alternative news sites has been charged under the country’s Lèse Majesté law, which criminalises defamation of Thai royalty, following allegedly defamatory comments left in the website’s comments section. Global Voices reports on civil society efforts inside Thailand to reform the law.
EFF | Global Voices

EU: Commissioner moves forward in favour of right to read for the blind
In a speech to the European Parliament this week, EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier has committed to seeking a mandate from EU Member States to negotiate a Treaty for the Visually Impaired (TVI) at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The development is significant since the European Commission had thus far opposed the idea of a binding instrument to ensure minimum standards for exceptions to copyright law that allow the reading-impaired to freely share adapted materials. The campaign for the TVI has been led by the World Blind Union (WBU) in collaboration with other civil society groups.
Link to this week’s speech (begins at 20:59:52) | Previous 2011 Commission position | More info on the TVI

India: “The war on the web is a war on us”
In this editorial for Tehelka magazine, Rishi Majumder uses two legal cases against Facebook and Google that are currently making their way through the Indian court system to warn that trends around regulation of content on the Indian web threaten citizens’ fundamental rights to liberty and due process.

Africa: Mobile Phones Will Not Save the Poorest of the Poor
This article for Slate magazine argues that mobile connectivity needs to be extended to the poorest regions of Africa in order to stay the growth of a widening digital divide: “While the technologies for dramatically lowering the cost of connectivity already exist, politicians and regulators have been unwilling to enact bold policies that would deploy innovative solutions and promote meaningful competition”.

Interview: Eric King
Privacy International’s Eric King speaks to me on the blog about his year spent sneaking into arms fairs to find out about the latest in digital surveillance technology being sold to authorities in repressive regimes.

Big Data, Big Impact: New Possibilities for International Development
The World Economic Forum have released a discussion note exploring the potential of big data to inform development projects, highlighting the need for “concerted action to ensure that this data helps the individuals and communities who create it”.

Syllabus: News and Participatory Media, MIT
Full syllabus of a new class taught by the head of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, Ethan Zuckerman: “Rather than exploring the history of journalism and challenges to existing models of news production, this class will consider the news as an engineering challenge”.

“The Meme is the message”: A curated history of the Grass Mud Horse song
Bloggers at the China-focussed design blog 88-bar provide a useful summary of the subtly subversive “Grass Mud Horse” Chinese internet meme: “On the heavily censored world of the Chinese internet, memes are often the only way to get a message out there”.

Too much information: links for week ending 10 February

US: Proposed new law supports public access to research
A proposed new law that supports public access to publicly-funded research, the Federal Research Public Access Act, has been put forward with bi-partisan sponsorship (ie, support from representatives of both political parties) this week in both legislative houses of the US Congress. The Alliance for Taxpayer Access, a project of the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), reports: “The proposed bill would…require federal agencies to provide the public with online access to articles reporting on the results of the United States’ $60 billion in publicly funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.” The proposed law provides a counterpoint to the Research Works Act, another law US legislators are being asked to consider that has received the support of some traditional academic publishers (see below).

Academics vow to boycott Elsevier over Research Works Act
The Economist reports on the rapid growth of signatories to a petition calling out Dutch academic publisher Elsevier for their high prices, bundling practices, and support for the Research Works Act, a proposed US law that would deny public access to publicly funded research. The petition has been signed by over 5,000 researchers, many of whom have pledged that they will refrain from publishing, refereeing and editorial work. Elsevier requires these services, which are performed without remuneration, in order to function.
Report | Petition

Russia: Prices of popular bloggers’ posts leaked
The Guardian reports that “A pro-Kremlin group runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media, according to private emails allegedly hacked by a group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous”. The emails, sent between people involved in the Kremlin-sponsored youth group Nashi, detail payments to journalists and bloggers. Slashdot provides more background to the story.
Guardian | Slashdot

Reporters Without Borders creates mirror sites to fight censorship
Reporters Without Borders have announced they will create mirror websites that host content from organisations taken offline by cyberattacks, or blocked by censors. They will begin by mirroring content published by the Chechen magazine Dosh (which was taken offline by cyberattacks during the Russian elections last year) and the Sri Lankan online newspaper Lanka-e News, which has been blocked inside Sri Lanka since October 2011.

Privacy, free expression, and the Facebook standard
In the week of the Facebook IPO, CEO of Human Rights First Elisa Massimino encourages potential investors to examine the values of the company in this piece for Forbes: “If Facebook really were a country, its foreign policy would be on a collision course with that of the Obama administration, which has made Internet freedom — including protecting the privacy rights of users — a foreign policy priority.”

WSJ debate: Is extending patents on pharmaceuticals simply more of a bad thing?
The Wall Street Journal has published a debate on the role of patents in encouraging innovation in the pharmaceutical sector, and whether calls to extend the length of time for which a patent is granted have any merit. Josh Bloom, director of the American Council on Science and Health argues for a patent extension, while Els Torreele of the Open Society Public Health Program argues that extending patents on pharmaceuticals will do nothing to increase medical innovation.

Africa should be wary of US propaganda on intellectual property
This blog post by Open Society Public Health Program’s Brett Davidson highlights the rise of free trade agreements promoting intellectual property enforcement measures that go beyond established norms, and the threat they pose to health and education in the developing world.

We are the media, and so are you
In this editorial for the Washington Post, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, together with Kat Walsh, asks readers to recognise the stake they have in a fere and open internet, and the power they have to defend that stake.

Report: Rise of the silent SMS
European Digital Rights (EDRI) look in-depth at the increasing use by police in Europe of “silent SMSs” to track suspects using their mobile phones.

Interview: Brewster Kahle
The LA Times interview “evangelical librarian” and Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle about his various projects to preserve public access to the world’s knowledge.

Data visualisation: How Africa tweets
The Atlantic publish a data visualisation based on analysis of more than 11.5 million geolocated tweets posted during the last three months of 2011.

Audio: Rebecca MacKinnon on her new book “Consent of the Networked”
CBC’s Spark podcast interviews Rebecca MacKinnon about her new book “Consent of the Networked”, which urges its readers to stop arguing about whether the internet is good or bad for people, and start finding ways to maintain people’s rights in what is essentially a corporate-owned space.

Pricing and distribution, or “the bottom line” [Book hacking post-mortem 2/5]

Also known as “the post with the spreadsheet”, this is part one of a series of four posts analysing how I went about publishing Barefoot into Cyberspace.

I went into this project to get attention for myself as a writer of books, and to make something of a work I realised was unlikely to get mainstream sponsorship in the timeframe it needed. As such, the bottom line was not my primary target. While I was writing and publishing the book, I was earning enough money part time to make myself a living (I moved out of London to a small village in Cambridgeshire, where rents are about a quarter the price), and to fund the book’s research, promotion and (scant) publishing costs, which totalled just over £2,000.

Nonetheless, I didn’t go into this intending to lose money, and I hope that by the end of the project, I will have made back most of the money I invested (discounting labour). I’ve put up a spreadsheet detailing sales figures and profit margins, as well as some of the headline costs. I suggest you open that up while you read the rest of this post, which goes into some heady detail about the different decisions I could have made, decisions that might have ended up with me making more money than the roughly £1,000 I have made so far.

Paid-for versions of the book were made available in print or Kindle format. The print-on-demand partner, Lightning Source, offered the book at a wholesale discount to booksellers, including Amazon, or at cost price to me. Although I could set my own wholesale price, Lightning Source recommended I set it at a 55% discount on the cover price. Around the web, authors who had used Lightning Source to get their books into mainstream channels recommended taking Lightning Source’s advice, or risking unfavourable treatment from booksellers. Although I couldn’t see quite how Amazon et al would go about discriminating against authors who had set a higher wholesale price, I didn’t want to risk jinxing the project, and so I took this recommendation.

This wholesale price explains why Amazon are able to offer such deep discounts (at one point, Barefoot was offered for around £6). If you buy a copy of the book via Amazon for the full £8.99 cover price, the income to each party is massively disfavourable to the company I set up to publish the book (Barefoot Publishing):

Booksellers cut: £4.94
Lightning Source cut: £3.16
Barefoot Publishing cut: £0.89

Conversely, if you buy a copy of the book direct from me, the Lightning Source cut remains the same and Barefoot Publishing gets the remaining £5.83. The difference in cut is pretty astounding, and there are two ways I could have improved on the net revenue from print sales: upped the cover price, and encouraged people to buy direct from me.

For example, I could have upped the cover price to £12.99 – this is the cover price for Heather Brooke’s book, The Revolution Will Be Digitised, which touches on many of the same topics as Barefoot, and in a similar, reportage-like style. This would make the revenue through booksellers shake out like this:

Booksellers cut: £7.14
Lightning Source cut: £3.16
Barefoot Publishing cut: £2.69

It would also have increased my cut from direct sales to £9.21 per unit sold, taking my overall net revenues (print and Kindle) from £1,057 to £1,834 (see Scenario 1, on the spreadsheet).

Rop Gonggrijp aka the White Rabbit, as imagined by the book's illustrator, Christopher Scally

So how about encouraging more people to buy from me direct? A few close friends with an inkling of how the book trade works contacted me over email to buy from me direct, but most of my direct sales came face-to-face at the launch party, the Chaos Communications Camp, and at various speaking events.

To encourage direct sales would have meant setting up my own e-commerce platform. In the week before the launch it was touch and go whether I would get listed on Amazon in time, as there’s quite a lag time between when Lightning Source add you to their catalogues and when you get listed on the Amazon website, and the flash-publishing process meant I was sailing pretty close to the wind, time-wise (there’ll be more on timing in a subsequent post). I therefore put a bit of time into creating my own e-commerce “pop-up shop” using Shopify, something I could point people to if they wanted to buy the book online. Shopify takes a 2% cut of all transactions, with a further 3% going to Paypal – still a long way from Amazon’s 55% cut. In the end, the Amazon listing came through, and to avoid incurring monthly hosting fees I deleted the Shopify platform.

I had two reasons for not taking Barefoot Publishing down the bespoke e-commerce route. The first was that, if I could help it, I didn’t want to burden myself with the hassle of fulfilling orders during the initial promotional phase of the book. And the second was that I felt that being available through Amazon would give me a kind of credibility that being available through a custom e-commerce platform wouldn’t. Because I was publishing the book outside of the traditional process, I was very sensitive to issues of credibility. Looking back, I think these latter concerns were just me being over-sensitive.

Order fulfilment would have basically meant taking details from the Shopify orders and plugging them into Lightning Source’s back end (if I had used Lulu, which has its own e-commerce platform built in, instead of Lightning Source, there would have been almost no hassle). Lightning Source charge a flat £1.25 handing fee per order, which is easily swallowed when you’re ordering 50 copies to sell at events, but has an impact when you’re making one or two unit orders. If I had increased the cover price *and* sold all my POD copies on a Merchant platform I controlled, I would have made £7.93 per POD unit, taking my total net revenues up to £2,644 (Scenario 3 on the spreadsheet).

Turning to the Kindle revenues. Selling books on Kindle is altogether much simpler than selling books on dead trees. Amazon’s Kindle desktop publishing platform makes it very simple, and I can really see how Kindle is making millionaires out of a few lucky self-publishers. Amazon offers two levels of royalties, 35% and, in some territories including the US and UK, 70%. To qualify for the higher rate, you have to pay for the bandwidth it takes to deliver the book, and you have to conform to certain pricing conditions. I chose the 70% royalties option in those territories where it was offered. The UK Kindle version had a cover price of £2.05, and the revenue distribution broke down like this:

Amazon cut: – £0.62
Delivery costs (bandwidth) – £0.26
Barefoot Publishing Cut – £1.18

I think the low cover price on the Kindle was a key sales driver. But, assuming for a moment that an increased cover price would not have dragged down sales, upping the price to the maximum allowed under the terms of the 70% royalty rate, £6.99, makes me an extra £869 (Scenario 2 on the spreadsheet).

In total, if I had increased the cover price of the print and Kindle books, and sold all print copies direct (Scenario 4), I could have made almost £3,500 – 3.5 times my actual net revenues from the project so far.

Postscript: The RIAA/unicorn double rainbow scenarios

Of course, the versions of the book that reached the most readers, by an order of magnitude, are the free versions I licensed CC-BY-SA. There will be more reflections on my choice to offer CC versions in a subsequent post. In the RIAA’s world, where every free download is a lost sale, I missed out on total net revenues of over £30,000 (Scenario 5). This is, of course, pure fantasy: there is no way to calculate the effect, positive or negative, that offering a free version has on sales of the paid-for versions.

Note that the RIAA’s view of these figures still maintains a healthy bottom line for the intermediaries in this project (but of course!). The unicorn double rainbow version of the figures (Scenario 6 on the spreadsheet), where every reader buys the book at a maximum margin for me, makes me over £100,000. Sa-weet!

Book-hacking post-mortem 1/5

This is the introduction to a series of four posts detailing my experiences flash-publishing Barefoot into Cyberspace last year. These posts are intended to be of interest to people who are thinking about the changes underway in publishing at the moment, to those who study the business models behind Creative Commons projects, and to anyone thinking of setting up a publishing project in the future, either for their own work, or for somebody else.

Book signing at the launch party, July 2011

Overall, I’ve been pleased by the critical response the book has received (see these three posts for a taster), and by the fact it has reached over 10,000 readers. My goal with this project was to get attention for myself as a writer of books, and to make something of a work I realised was unlikely to get mainstream sponsorship in the timeframe it needed. If you know nothing about me, or my book, you might find reading the post I wrote about why I decided to flash-publish Barefoot Into Cyberspace offers some useful context. The bottom line was not my primary concern, but as I said, publishing is changing, and there are now lots of opportunities to make money publishing your own books, some of which I took full advantage of, and others of which I missed or mishandled.

My first post takes on this topic. The series, which I plan on completing over the coming weeks, will run as follows:

  1. Pricing and Distribution – the bottom line
  2. Licensing – or giving stuff away for fun and profit
  3. Marketing and Publicity – or how to throw a great party
  4. Book poetry/book plumbing – or “what do you mean, html doesn’t know what a page is?”


Photo courtesy of paul_clarke@Flickr

Too much information – links for week ending 3 February

Ghana: Government launches Open Data Initiative
The Ghana News Agency reports that the government is collaborating with the World Wide Web Foundation to commence implementation of the Ghana Open Data Initiative, which will make government data freely available to citizens for re-use.

Guatemala: National Police Archive now online
The Benetech blog reflects on the recent online publication of the Guatemalan National Police Archive.

EU: Open Knowledge Foundation software will power new EU data portal
The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) have announced their success in winning a joint bid to build the EU’s official open data platform. Their open source software package, CKAN, will power the platform.

US: White House releases responses to open access consultation
The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has published the responses to their Request for Information on public access to publicly-funded research.

Special: Lessons from SOPA/PIPA and the coming fight against ACTA
Draconian proposals to address the issue of intellectual property infringement continued to dominate the news this week. Yochai Benkler presents his “Seven Lessons from SOPA/PIPA and Four Proposals on Where We Go From Here” in this long feature for TechPresident, while Forbes asks “Who Really Stopped SOPA, and Why?”. Meanwhile, Michael Geist outlines what’s at stake in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and how citizens can get their voices heard on the issue.
Benkler | Forbes | Geist

The Chronicle of Higher Ed on altmetrics
The Chronicle of Higher Education takes an in-depth look at the forces moving the academic community to find alternative metrics for the impact of their research, ones that respond better to the online environment.

Private data, public rules
Following last week’s news of a review of the data protection framework, The Economist publish a good review of global data privacy regulations.

How Russian technology provides the eyes and ears for the world’s Big Brothers
This article for examines Russia’s contribution to the global trade in surveillance technology.

Why Twitter’s new policy is helpful for free-speech advocates
Zeynep Tufecki calls on those condemning Twitter for its announcement this week that it is now able to block Tweets on a country-by-country basis to look at the company’s new policy in greater depth.

Social Media & Protest: A quick list of recent scholarly research
A useful list of recent research papers taking in the influence of social media on phenomenon such as the Arab Spring, the UK riots and the Occupy movement.

Activist Guide to the Brussels Maze
European Digital Rights (EDRI) have produced this accessible and comprehensive guide for activists working in Brussels.

Book: Sharing – Culture and the Economy in the Internet Age
“Sharing: Culture and the Economy in the Internet Age”, by Philippe and Suzanne Aigrain, is published this week. The book explores the dissemination of digital culture, offering a counterpoint to the dominant view that file-sharing is piracy and exploring models for creativity that marry remuneration and openness. A percentage of profits from the print book will go to digital rights campaigners La Quadrature du Net, an organisation Phillipe Aigrain co-founded.

Audio: Lawrence Lessig on how money corrupts Congress
In the 100th edition of the Long Now Seminar series, constitutional scholar Lawrence Lessig presents a plan to stop the corrupting influence of money in American politics.